A Royal Christmas or Differentiating From Momma

Posted on December 30, 2015


This time of year, we see a lot of Hallmark movies at our house.  Most tend to be very similar and very predictable.  This is not really a problem for me as long as the leads are likeable enough and behave in some fashion that seems to make sense (even if the scenarios are somewhat farfetched).  There do seem to be an extraordinary amount of small European countries we have never heard of whose princes are living in cognito in the US.

The recent Hallmark film that was a bit too much for me was A Royal Christmas.  The plot is this.  A young seamstress, Emily, in Philadelphia has been in a relationship with a young man, Leo, for a year.  Unbeknownst to her, Leo is actually Prince Leopold from (you guessed it) a small European country of which no one has ever heard.  He is summoned home at Christmastime and asks her to accompany him.  The plot turns on the fact that his widowed mother, the queen, is disapproving of his choice of a significant other.  Mom (the queen) is rude, undermining, deceitful, and conniving.[1]

Leo does some complaining (whining) to mom about the way she treated the woman to whom he had proposed, but he never really establishes any boundaries with mom.  Even after Emily leaves for home, the decision to go after her is mom’s.  Even though mom has had a change of heart and is now supportive of Leo and Emily marrying, we still have a family dynamic in which mother and son are enmeshed and have no boundaries.

Let’s suppose that instead of ending the film where she accepts his second proposal (of course with mom’s encouragement) that we continue our story for a few more years.  Who is going to want to have her say about where the couple live?  Who is going to expect to have authority in naming the couple’s first child?  Mom, of course.

It is reasonable neither to expect Emily to put up with mom’s lack of boundaries throughout the marriage nor to expect Emily to be the one to establish the boundaries with her mother-in-law.[2]  That should be Leo’s job.

“But what about the Judeo-Christian commandment to ‘Honor your father and your mother?’” I hear you ask.  Honoring your mother does not mean having no boundaries.  Part of becoming an adult is having healthy differentiation from your family of origin.  That too is a biblical instruction.

My colleague, Dr. Ben Lim (who was also my professor in grad school) applies the instruction from Genesis 2:24 “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” as a process of “leaving, cleaving, and weaving.”  Part of marriage is differentiating from our family of origin (“leaving”), joining together with our partner (“cleaving”), and building our lives together (“weaving”).  We cannot accomplish this without some boundaries with our families of origin.

We can still honor our parents.  They can still be a wonderful source of wisdom and support.  However, we are abdicating our adult responsibilities (and our spousal responsibilities) to let our parents run our lives.

So what does this look like for Leo?  “Mom, you seem to not approve of my choice with Emily.  If you have a concern about my choice, it would be more appropriate to speak to me directly about it.  If you want me to stay for Christmas and fell welcome, I would expect that you would make my guest feel welcome (particularly the woman I hope to marry).”  Mom can still do whatever she is going to do, but Leo does not have to stay and go through all of the rituals.

What does this look like for Emily? “Leo, I love you.  We need to talk about boundaries with your family before we can make wedding plans.  Let’s see if our pastor can recommend a marital therapist for some pre-marital counseling.”

[1] I am not being mean, that is the way her character was written.

[2] Let me temper that statement just a little.  Emily is responsible for her own boundaries, but if Leo abdicates that to her it will create marital problems.